As complex and flavorful as our terrestrial world is, the sum of it is made up of surprisingly few components, pieced together in endless possible ways. The further we reduce our focus in scale, the less diverse our group of building blocks becomes, with the occasional scientific surprise that makes us reconsider everything. With a similar, self-imposed restriction of source forms and materials, sculptor Hannah Thompsett produces a wealth of possible outcomes. For her most recent body of work, "Suspended Arrangements," currently showing at the Genesee Center's Firehouse Gallery, Thompsett displays her work dramatically and includes some simple tricks of light to showcase the forms and enhance the way we experience them.
"Suspended Arrangements" marks the end of Thompsett's second residency at the Genesee Center, and continues a project she began to explore during her first residency, showcased in the "Potentiality" exhibit held at the Center last August. It all began with a line drawing on paper, which Thompsett folded to create volume, until she collected a vast array of ephemeral permutations of geometric forms. She then slip-cast those forms to preserve them in ceramic. For this exhibit, she continued this exploration of form, but also built tables, pedestals, and wall-mounted framing furniture, with built-in reflective surfaces and captured shadows of the forms, to show off many perspectives of the pieces at once.
The infinite ways matter manifests from ultimately simple and seemingly finite resources can be surprising and inspiring. In a sense, we exist in a giant fractal -- we can identify the repetition of similar forms on macro and micro levels everywhere, unconsciously existing as effective answers to problems great and small. For example, one key shape or pattern of the universe is the spiral. Once we focus in on the components, we begin to notice the presence of the components or patterns throughout the complex structures around and within us.
The same is true when identifying the basic component in Thompsett's forms -- a repeating triangle, or fragments of it, which manifest as fans, pyramids, and perhaps most unexpectedly, a tower of concave cubes.
Elegant and modern, sharp but organic, the forms resemble all manner of things: microscopic organisms, crystal shards, exotic flora, architecture, a crown, art-deco furniture, spiny beetles, abstracted faces and figures. They all balance elegantly on flat seams or points where lines meet.
Thompsett's artist statement declares that "Suspended Arrangements" is an exploration of the relationships between the objects we collect and other items in the collection, as well as the spaces they inhabit. In the interest of enhancing this meditation and maximizing the impact of her thesis, the artist has cleared away all that is unnecessary and distracting. Crisp, white forms are displayed concurrently with crisp, simple manipulations that shift how we view the works, and cast against clean, black frames and tables with legs that echo the geometry found in the work.
Natural materials in limited hues -- clay, wood, glass, and distilled light -- balance one another in stark contrast, so complexities in the forms are emphasized. All of the objects are matte except for the glass. Gray tones are introduced by the play of light and shadow, and reflections on the geometry. Titles too would be a frivolity, in the way of the point, so Thompsett simply numbers her "Arrangements."
Glass-topped custom tables and pedestals reflect forms from below. These are made of smooth black wood that holds its own as a foil for the uniformly pale ceramics. "Framed" forms are placed on wall-mounted, L-shaped black wood structures that are anchored to the walls. Each frame encloses a photogram of the object behind and below the object, safe under panes of glass that also reflect the object from behind and beneath it. So in addition to the volume of the actual object, viewers experience a sort of ghost volume and depth through the shadows and reflections.
Thompsett layers additional dimensions to the forms, shadows, and reflections, with the strange, captured light-shadows of the photograms. Each 3D object is experienced not only from shifting perspectives as viewers move around the pieces, but simultaneously experienced through its shadow on the glass, through its reflection on the glass, and through its photogram. All of these bright and faded and dark shapes are layered and dynamic as the viewer shifts perspective. The photograms also stand to solidify a sort of permanent record of the form's placement, while the shadows and reflections are ever-changing.
There is such elegance in the angles of the forms, and elegance in the balance of them, and in the reflections layering with shadow, and in the way the photograms soften the razor sharp edges. The staging turns the forms' craggy peaks into shifting dunes of light. The show is a study in complexity, and possibilities, and Thompsett is sculpting with light as much as with clay, wood, and glass.
Thompsett's double residency gave her the opportunity to explore and share concepts, to show and sell work among a creative community and audience. Her work is as captivating as crystals, and lends the haunted feeling you might get from those objects as light passes through them, as if a presence lingers there.
Brilliant physicist and inventor Nikola Tesla is quoted as having said that "in a crystal we have the clear evidence of the existence of a formative life-principle, and though we cannot understand the life of a crystal, it is nonetheless a living being." Just as a crystal's form and growth is determined by the presence of a specific mineral, but ultimately manifests in countless ways, Thompsett's forms each possess the same seed that flowers in unpredicted varieties. Her work reveals a fascination with possibility, and this is a project without a conceivable finish point. Ultimately, the creator has to pick a place to stop tinkering.